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Mighty turnaround

Dominant Sox, Beckett send series back to Boston

CLEVELAND - Football, basketball, and hockey will have to wait. Cancel that weekend foliage tour of North Conway and don't lower the storm windows just yet.

The summer game lives in New England. There is more baseball to be played. The Red Sox are coming home, trying to spin some October magic for the second time in four years.

Josh Beckett rescued the Sox from the brink of elimination last night, beating the Cleveland Indians, 7-1, in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series. Still trailing, 3-2 in the series, the local nine returns to Fenway Park tomorrow night and hands the ball to Curt Schilling, one of the greatest postseason chuckers of all time.

After three consecutive losses in which Boston's starter failed to finish the fifth inning, Beckett was dominant. He allowed five hits and struck out 11 in eight overpowering innings. On the heels of his 20-win season, he is 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, 26 strikeouts, and 1 walk in three playoff starts. And this game was no laugher. It was still 2-1 in the seventh.

"It's easy when you've got everything going," said Beckett. "I got great defense and held them off until we got some runs. We know what we need to to do. We need to win."

"We've leaned on him all year," said Sox manager Terry Francona.

The Indians made multiple efforts to take Beckett out of his game but none of them worked. In a Yankee-esque move that smacked of gamesmanship, the Tribe enlisted Beckett's former girlfriend, country singer Danielle Peck, to sing the national anthem. It was as if Jennifer Lopez had arrived on the red carpet for the premiere of "Gone Baby Gone."

Five innings after the anthem, Cleveland outfielder Kenny Lofton charged toward Beckett after flying out to left field. Both benches and bullpens emptied, but nothing came of it and Beckett kept putting zeros up on the board. He has dueled twice in this series with fellow Cy Young contender C.C. Sabathia and outpitched his rival (by a lot) both times.

"He's pitched real good both times we've seen him," conceded Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. "My disappointment was lack of adjustment by our hitters."

Boston's second batter of the night, Kevin Youkilis, homered on a 1-0 pitch from Sabathia (15 earned runs in 15 1/3 postseason innings) to give the Sox a quick lead. After striking the blow, Youkilis put his head down and circled the bases in respectful, professional fashion. It was the first of 12 Boston hits.

"I think getting ahead was a huge factor for us in this game," said Youkilis. "With Josh Beckett on the mound, we know that one run could be all we need in the game. It eases a lot of people's minds."

"Youk has taken some good swings and had some real good at-bats," said Francona. "His bat speed looks like it's where it was at the beginning of the year."

Manny Ramírez, emerging as the Dennis Rodman of baseball, doubled with two out, but was erased at home attempting to score on a single to right by Mike Lowell. Ramírez failed to slide and the play at the plate was not close.

In the bottom of the inning, Grady Sizemore led with a bloop double to left, took third on a single, and scored on a double-play grounder. That would be the only run of the night for the Indians, who had hoped to clinch a championship on their home field for the first time since Game 7 of the 1920 World Series.

There was controversy in the third, and naturally, Manny was involved. After David Ortiz drew a two-out walk, Ramírez hit a long fly to right-center. Thinking he'd hit a home run, Ramírez went into his trot, and extended his hand toward first base coach Luis Alicea. Unfortunately for Manny, the ball hit the yellow stripe on top of the wall - which is in play - and Ramírez had a very long RBI single. There was considerable argument and rage from the Sox dugout, but it looked like the umpires got it right.

The good news for the Sox was that they had a 2-1 lead and Beckett was getting stronger. He retired the side in order in the third and fourth, needing only 16 pitches to get through six batters.

The extracurricular activity came in the fifth. Beckett yelled at Lofton when the outfielder flied to left and Lofton started toward the mound after rounding first when the ball was caught. After a lot of milling around by 50 players, play resumed without further incident. When the Indians put runners on first and third with two out, Beckett fanned Asdrubal Cabrera to send the game to the sixth inning with the Sox still leading, 2-1.

Boston broke it open and chased Sabathia with two runs in the seventh. Dustin Pedroia led with a double to center and came around to score on Youkilis's triple, which grazed off the glove of a diving Sizemore in right-center. Rafael Betancourt replaced Sabathia and Ortiz immediately made it 4-1 with a sacrifice fly to left.

Ms. Peck came back for a rendition of "God Bless America" before the home half of the seventh, which put her about 100 feet from Beckett, but nothing seemed to bother the big righthander on this night.

Finally doing some damage against the Cleveland bullpen, the Sox tacked on three more in the eighth as the game dragged. Fans who'd hoped to see their team clinch the pennant started to file out of Jacobs Field. The game ended at 12:09 this morning.

"Beating a team like Boston four times in a row is tough to do," said Wedge. "We put ourselves in good position at home, but we didn't play particularly well tonight."

The American League champs will be crowned this weekend at Fenway. So leave the patio furniture outside for another week and hold off on the cordwood delivery. It's still baseball season in Boston.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at

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